Diabetes Forecast

How to: Make a Perfect Salad

By Robyn Webb, MS, LN , ,

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Do you ever find yourself stranded in the fruit-and-veggie aisle of the supermarket, desperately trying to figure out which combination will make the best meal? Do you fantasize about that one great salad you had on vacation, and wish you could learn how to replicate it? Or—admit it—have you given up on trying to make your own salads, after that fiasco with the iceberg lettuce, capers, and balsamic vinegar?

Here, we take you step-by-step through the making of a great salad. The basic idea is to think of adding layers to your bowl: greens first, then veggies, then toppers (we divide them into different categories based on texture and taste), and finally dressing. Use the freshest ingredients, and don't overdo it—you don't need 17 different kinds of vegetables in one salad. Want to go from side dish to main course? We also give you ideas for bringing protein into the mix.

Work your way through this plan and you'll find that you're never too far away from your next great meal.


Begin with fresh, crisp lettuce. For the biggest nutritional bang for your buck, go for dark green leaves: romaine, spinach, arugula, and the like. If you find them to be a bit on the bitter side, you can add some lighter leaves in there, too, like bibb or Boston, or choose sweeter veggies and toppers in the next steps. Tear the leaves by hand into manageable pieces, and figure on about 2 to 3 cups of greens per person.


Add some color and depth. Here's where you can give a salad some heft, plus a dose of color and flavor. We're talking about tomatoes (yes, technically a fruit) and cucumbers, but also carrots, peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, onions, and yellow squash. Not all of them have to be fresh: You can try some roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, or jarred artichokes. Add starchy veggies if you want—think corn, peas, potato slices—but remember that they can add significantly to carbohydrate content.


Lay on a shot of flavor. Think of these as the soloists of salad: The toppers stand out from the crowd. They can give your meal crunchiness or creaminess, or add a blast of saltiness or sweetness. Pay attention to serving sizes; you'll use less of these than of most other salad ingredients (and a little goes a long way). Another option: a quarter cup of your favorite whole grains, cooked and cooled.


Give it a splash. What's the sign of a properly dressed salad? No liquid puddling at the bottom of the bowl. Wake up your leaves instead of drowning them; a well-tossed salad needs only 1 tablespoon of dressing per 2 cups of greens. Make sure the greens are dry to begin with; dressing adheres best to dry leaves. And while you can use store-bought if you want, it's easy enough to make your own fresh dressing (recipes for four different ones can be found here). Either way, plan on dressing your salad just moments before serving it.


Make it a full meal. Salads are great as side dishes and greater as main courses, which can be created simply by adding a bit of protein. Opt for leaner meats (a single serving is 3 ounces), beans and lentils, or soy-based proteins, and you'll save yourself a lot of unnecessary fat. If you have a bit of extra time, the recipes here offer elegant variations. The possibilities are nearly endless, limited only by what's available in your local supermarket—and the breadth of your imagination.

Technique: Prepping and Storing Lettuce
1. Core the lettuce, separating the leaves
and discarding any wilted pieces.
2. Wash thoroughly.
3. Dry leaves completely.
You can lay them out on
a dish towel, roll them up,
and store them in your
refrigerator crisper, still
in the towel. Or line a
salad spinner with a
paper towel, and spin dry.
While best eaten right away,
properly stored leaves
will keep for a few days.

Technique: Cutting up Vegetables
1. Slices are thin or
2. Julienne slicing makes
matchstick-sized veggies.
3. A crinkle cutter
adds a bit of whimsy.
4. Cukes don't always
need to be sliced; cutting
them and other veggies
into short spears makes
a nice change.
5. A dice can be
small or large.

Tip: Sweet, Salty, Crunchy, Creamy

1. For sweetness, try a
tablespoon of raisins,
dried cranberries, or
other dried fruits, or a
quarter cup of cut-up
fresh fruits, like citrus,
pineapple, or apple.

2. While you don't
want to add unnecessary
salt, sprinkling on a
tablespoon (or less) of
cheeses like Parmesan
or feta can pack a punch.
3. Crave a crunch?
Try veggies like jicama,
water chestnuts, or endive;
a couple of teaspoons of nuts
or seeds; or a tablespoon
of whole wheat croutons.
4. Creaminess comes in
many forms: a diced slice
of avocado, a chunk of
goat's cheese (chèvre)
or mozzarella, or a
dollop of cottage
cheese or ricotta.

Technique: Making Your Own Dressing
1. For a traditional vinaigrette,
start with wine vinegar, mustard,
minced garlic, chopped tarragon,
and a squeeze of lemon.
2. Mix them together.
3. In a stream, slowly add in
olive oil, whisking constantly
(this is known as emulsification).
Then season with salt and pepper.

Tip: Pick Your Protein
Here are some good options
1. Fish (sardines, tuna, or
flaked salmon, for example)
or shrimp
2. Eggs
3. Tofu, beans,
chickpeas, edamame,
or lentils
4. Chicken, lean beef
(like flank, eye of round,
top roast), or pork


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